Nutter makes pitch for putting Allen in Hall

MICHAEL NUTTER, the mayor of Philadelphia, was playing stickball once again, feet apart, slightly crouched, wrists cocked.

"I'm a black kid, growing up in West Philly," he recalled. "We're playing stickball, halfball, and every so often we'd get a 'roofie.' All the kids, we're copying Dick Allen's stance, Dick Allen's swing. I'm 7, he's 21, and he's a role model."

Nutter took a swing yesterday at City Hall, as the mayor, as a fan, urging people to get behind the drive to put Dick Allen in baseball's Hall of Fame. A roofie? A double off the rowhouse stoop? A whiff?

He recited Allen's numbers, OPS-plus, homers, seven times an All-Star. He was preaching to the choir. He's written a letter of support to the Baseball Writers' Association, to the guy in charge of the Hall of Fame. Perhaps too little, too late because a "Golden Era" ballot will be announced in a few days.

The "Golden Era," that's the '60s and early '70s. There will probably be 10 names on the list. If there's any justice, Allen's name will be one of them. That makes the odds at least 10-to-1. He will need 12 of the 16 votes. That makes the odds longer, partly because Bill James, the guru of baseball statistics, once described Allen as a guy who caused his team to lose games.

"The mayor was 7, 8, back then, the right age for getting excited about baseball," Mitch Nathanson said earlier in the day. "The press conference, that's nice. What would really have an impact is a Bill James press conference."

Nathanson has written a book about Allen. It's called "God Almighty Hisself: The Divine Talent and Tragedy of Dick Allen," a title that borrows from a memorable quote from George Myatt after they named him interim manager, which was after Bob Skinner quit abruptly, which was after Allen refused to play in an exhibition game.

Which is why the media asked Myatt if he thought he could handle the slugger. And Myatt said, "I don't think Gold Almighty hisself could handle Richie Allen, so all I can do is try."

What's left out when baseball guys of a certain age recall Allen is that the next time he saw Myatt he said softly, "You don't handle people, you treat them. Horses, you handle."

Nathanson believes that Allen was mistreated by the Phillies the moment they sent him to Little Rock to play baseball. Little Rock, that's where it took the National Guard to escort scared black kids to school after integration.

"Coy, Allen's half-brother, negotiated with the Phillies," Nathanson explained. "The Phillies had a team in Elmira and one in Tampa. Coy negotiated that they would not send him to the South.

"Little Rock didn't have a team for a while, after the Southern Association folded. Now, they were going to revive the Travelers and Allen was to be the face of integration. They just didn't tell him that."

"Uncle Sonny, that's what we called Coy," Richard Allen Jr. said after the warm and fuzzy City Hall event ended. "My grandmother didn't want my dad leaving home and Coy said, 'Do you want him to stay in Wampum [Pa.] and work in the mill?'

"Years later, we heard that when the plane landed in Little Rock and my dad looked out and saw all those angry people carrying [hostile] signs, he didn't want to get off the plane."

The taunts, the notes on the windshield that featured the N-word, did not stop him from hitting .289 with 33 homers and 97 RBI. "He once said," his son recalled, "that he was gonna hit his way outta there."

Allen never forgave, never forgot. Didn't forgive or forget that the Phillies put him on the "expansion" list when the Colt .45s and the Mets were added to the National League.

Nathanson thinks Allen felt betrayed by the people who were supposed to have his best interests at heart. Free agency hadn't happened yet, so he was stuck. The things he did to get unstuck created controversy. He did not respond well to orders.

"Walt Alston," Nathanson said, "talked about what he'd learned about Dick Allen after he'd played for the Dodgers. He said that if you told Allen to be someplace at 5, he might not show up at all. But if you asked Allen to be someplace at 5, he'd show up at 4:30 ready to go to work."

The drive to get Allen into Cooperstown has been fascinating, led by the irrepressible Froggy, Mark Carfagno, the former groundskeeper, and a devout friend of Allen's. He spoke yesterday, and so did home run historian Bill Jenkinson, who said he had researched 20 of Allen's homers that exceeded 500 feet.

He talked about the homer over the Coca-Cola sign that Allen hit off Bob Veale and into a stiff wind. "The players in the Hall of Fame are great players," Jenkinson said. "But only a few could take your breath away. Dick Allen could take your breath away."

Lovely. So many "roofies,'' so many breathtaking moments. The voters will be made aware of them. But it would be special if they heard from Bill James. Don't bet against it.

 


Email: stanrhoch@comcast.net.